- Rep. Rashida Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, used Thomas Jefferson’s English translated copy of the Quran for her swearing-in ceremony.
- Tlaib intended the use of the Quran to be a statement about Islam’s role in American history and modern American society.
- Jefferson acquired his copy of the Quran while studying the law. His edition was originally meant to educate Christians about Islam so they could evangelize Muslims.
Democratic Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, was sworn into office Thursday using Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran.
Tlaib, the first Palestinian woman to take congressional office, insisted on using the Quran, ostensibly to make a positive statement about Islam’s place in U.S. history and the diversity of American society. She also reportedly wore a traditional Palestinian gown, called a thobe, for the ceremony.
“My swearing in on the (Quran) is about me showing that the American people are made up of diverse backgrounds and we all have love of justice and freedom,” Tlaib told the Detroit Free Press. “My faith has centered me. The prophet Mohammed was always talking about freedom and justice.”
Jefferson purchased a copy of the Quran in 1765 while studying the law. He was a collector of books, and historians speculate he might have purchased the Quran because of his curiosity about world religions and because a significant number of the slaves taken from African countries to the U.S. followed Islam.
“It’s important to me because a lot of Americans have this kind of feeling that Islam is somehow foreign to American history,” Tlaib said of using Jefferson’s Quran. “Muslims were there at the beginning.”
Tlaib also said she is “going to be a voice for” Palestinians. After winning her congressional primary race, she gave a victory speech with the Palestinian flag draped around her shoulders. Many Palestinian women on social media hailed her announcement that she would wear a thobe during her swearing-in.
Interestingly, the copy of the Quran on which she made her oaths was translated by British lawyer George Sale for the purpose of Christians evangelizing Muslims. Sale intended his translation to help Christians understand Islam and to enable them to argue against it.
“Whatever use an impartial version of the Korân may be of in other respects, it is absolutely necessary to undeceive those who, from the ignorant or unfair translations which have appeared, have entertained too favourable an opinion of the original, and also to enable us effectually to expose the imposture,” Sale wrote in the foreword, according to History.
The Koran was also a popular read among Christians at the time due to a desire among Americans and the British to better understand the peoples of North Africa and the Ottoman Empire.
“The Quran gained a popular readership among Protestants both in England and in North America largely out of curiosity,” University of Texas Professor Denise Spellberg said. “But also because people thought of the book as a book of law and a way to understand Muslims with whom they were interacting already pretty consistently, in the Ottoman Empire and in North Africa.”
Despite criticism over her choice to use a Quran and to promote her Palestinian heritage, Tlaib said she is undaunted.
“My mere existence, that I’m even of Muslim faith, is going to be a problem for them with or without me swearing in on any Koran,” she said.